By Stuart R. Levine
Published In, The Credit Union Times

What makes you happy? Is it a brand new car, a new pair of shoes or a new friend? They say money can’t buy happiness, but studies show perhaps being grateful can. One recent study stated that those subjects expressing gratitude were significantly more satisfied with their lives compared to those not expressing gratitude. A 2009 study presented evidence for the neural basis for this phenomenon, showing that gratitude stimulates the area of our brain responsible for the pleasure sensation and stress reduction. A British research found that one smile provides the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars! It has been documented that smiling reduces stress, increases health and lowers blood pressure. I am not recommending that you go around smiling every minute, but staying focused on things you are grateful for in both your professional and personal life can not only can increase your own happiness but can influence the mood of their co-workers or boss as well.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina have even shown a genetic predisposition towards expressed gratitude and subsequent happiness. Other studies have indicated that expressing gratitude can elevate the mood of those around you as well, revealing that those with a propensity to express anger, reduced such propensity when shown gratitude.

Of course we all want to be happy both at work and in our personal life, but what benefits, other then feeling good, does happiness provide? A recent New York Times article reports that researchers at the University of Warwick recently showed that happy employees are on average 12% more productive than non-happy employees, while unhappy employees are 10% less productive, thus resulting in a 22% productivity swing between unhappy and happy employees. The study concluded that positive emotions appear to invigorate humans and invigorated humans are more productive, work better in teams, are more creative, and even have better time management skills. Further physiological studies support this phenomenon by showing that positive emotions actually enhance brain function. If being grateful improves happiness, and happiness improves productivity then the conclusion can be drawn that being grateful improves productivity. Following this logic, we can take responsibility for our own happiness and not be solely dependent on workplace incentives by being grateful.

According to Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, “happiness leads to greater levels of profits”. Other studies have found a high correlation between employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction and company profits. Happy employees yield happy customers, and happy customers buy more goods and services and are more loyal to the organization, resulting in repeat business. The obvious conclusion is that organizations need to keep their employees happy, but this is easier said than done.

Being grateful, however, may not be that easy. With all the negativity and stress in the today’s complex and increasingly challenging world, it may be difficult for some to find things to be honestly thankful for. We need to be mindful and push back on the negatives in our life while focusing on the positives. Experts point out that one usually doesn’t need to look very far to find something that makes us grateful. It may be the obvious things such as a happy marriage or secure job, or the less noticeable things like the lack of traffic on the way to work that day or a song on the radio. The point is that the mere act of expressing gratefulness will increase our mood and the mood of those around us. Gratefulness can be expressed internally by doing things like writing a list of things we are thankful for, or externally by sending emails or notes to people thanking them for their actions.

In our practice we find things daily to be grateful for, our work, our clients, our colleagues and our friends, to name a few. We are grateful every day for being able to help others be successful and reach their goals. As we express gratitude, we become happier, and as we become happier, we become better at what we do.

Actually, research shows that emotional authenticity is not actually the best approach to happiness. But rather rebelling against the all too human negative impulses that everyone experiences to different degrees, can be the best approach to being grateful and hence feeling happier and more productive. Spending a little time each day replacing negative thoughts with positive ones will go a long way towards achieving your goals, reducing stress and creating more open and trusting relationships with others.